Friday 23 November 2018

Forgotten Book - The Tokyo Zodiac Murders

Today's Forgotten Book, The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada, dates back to 1981, but more than thirty years elapsed before the novel was published in English by those splendid publishers Pushkin Vertigo. The translation was undertaken by the equally splendid John Pugmire, whose own imprint, Locked Room International, has been responsible for bringing to to English language readers some truly fascinating locked room mysteries.

Shimada's book caused quite a sensation in Japan on its original release, in that it represented a striking move away from a focus on gritty realism. The story has many elements (such as floor plans and footprints in the snow) that are pure Golden Age, and Shimada is a long-time admirer of classic detective fiction from Britain and America, but it is also modern, dealing with some subjects in a degree of gruesome detail that you would never find in, say, the work of John Dickson Carr or Anthony Wynne.

The story deals with a sequence of murders (and dismemberments) that took place in 1936, and their reinvestigation in 1979. The new inquiry is undertaken by a sort of Holmes-Watson duo, the brilliant young astrologer Kyoshi Mitarai and his friend, the narrator (of most but not all of the book), an illustrator called Takeshi Yoshiki. So it's a cold case mystery, and a very complicated one too. But there are some nice touches of humour, as in Kyoshi's witty debunking of some of the most famous Sherlock Holmes stories - rather as Holmes affected to disdain Gaboriau's stories about Lecoq.

I've never visited Japan, but in recent years I've become increasingly interested in the country's detective fiction, and it was a great thrill for me when The Golden Age of Murder was bought by a Japanese publisher. The Tokyo Zodiac Murders paved the way for a new generation of writers such as Alice Arisugawa who have made intriguing use of classic tropes in their fiction, combining elements familiar from Carr and company with a Japanese sensibility that I find intriguing. I gather that Pushkin Vertigo are planning to publish more crime fiction from Japan, and I look forward to reading it.


Ken B said...

I read this a few years ago. I wouldn’t recommend it to someone who doesn’t like GAD, but for anyone who likes Queen or Carr or such this is a must read. The central gimmick is brilliant and completely surprised me.
I like the cheekiness too. There is a formal challenge to the reader. Then, a bit later on, there is a SECOND “okay I gave you more and you still can’t solve it” challenge!

J F Norris said...

A correction for you: John Pugmire did not translate this book. He translates French writers not Japanese. Long before Pushkin published this I read a translated version by Ross & Shika Mackenzie. I just checked the Pushkin publication info and noticed their names on the title page of the new edition. It's basically a reissue of that 2004
English translated edition originally from IBC Publishing.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Ken. I agree!

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, John. My Pushkin edition specifically identifies John Pugmire as translator. I wonder if that was an error.

Kouten said...

Soji Shimada is one of the great writers on behalf of Japanese mystery world.
His novel is recommended for people liking GAD, but I am sorry that there are few things translated into English.

Ken B said...

A second Shimada, Murder in The Crooked House, comes out summer 2019, according to Amazon. Possibly at a different time in the UK.